603. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 1, 19601


  • Cuban Refugees in Florida


  • Under Secretary Douglas Dillon
  • John W. Hanes, Jr.
  • Tracy Voorhees

Mr. Voorhees said that he had been tentatively approached about “doing something” for the Cuban refugees in Florida on behalf of the President. He said he had taken the position that nothing of this sort should be done until after the election, lest it get involved in politics; and that after that time, if it were decided by all the interested people and the President, he would be happy to “look into” the situation on behalf of the President. He said if he did so he would hope to proceed by getting the Governor of Florida to establish a committee and take responsibility for what needed to be done, with himself as more or less of a helpful outsider to provide necessary liaison with the Federal Government.

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He expressed the opinion, based on the information he had already received, that the problem in Florida is not actually very large or very serious (involving about thirty to forty thousand Cubans in all, of which probably not more than two or three thousand at most are in need of any kind of assistance). He also mentioned, however, that the problem has received much publicity, and the need of doing something suitable is not necessarily related to the actual needs of the situation. He asked the Under Secretary what our policy view was.

Mr. Dillon said that the Department, for important reasons of foreign policy, was most anxious that suitable action be taken so that Cubans in this country not fall into need, or into a situation where they could be portrayed abroad as in difficult straits in the United States. He said he thought it very important for our position in Cuba and elsewhere abroad that Cubans fleeing to this country be adequately received and handled.

Mr. Dillon told Mr. Voorhees that the analysis and program he had outlined accorded very much with our own thinking as to the requirements of the situation. He pointed out that, since this is a domestic problem, the Department of State should not and does not wish to become directly involved in its handling in this country, feeling that this is largely within the province of the Immigration Service, and the Departments of Labor and of Health, Education and Welfare. However, he said that the Department would be more than happy to cooperate in any suitable way, including making available (within the limits of our ability) the experts available within the Department, especially in the Refugee Office. He suggested that Mr. Voorhees keep in touch with Mr. Hanes’ office in this regard.

Mr. Dillon again emphasized, however, that our reluctance to become involved in domestic operations did not detract from our great interest, from a foreign policy point of view, in assuring that suitable action was taken domestically to handle any Cuban situation properly and so as to reflect credit upon the United States response to the needs of these victims of Castro’s oppression.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/11–160. Confidential. Drafted by Hanes and approved in U on November 17.
  2. For Voorhees’ interim report as the President’s Representative on the Cuban Refugee Problem, December 19, see Department of State Bulletin, January 9, 1961, pp. 45–48.